[Talk-GB] Bridleway or track?

Rob Nickerson rob.j.nickerson at gmail.com
Sat Mar 16 00:45:25 UTC 2019

Martin wrote:

>But presumably the designers of OSM intended only one of these meanings
>for the highway tag. But I still don't know whether it is physical
>appearance or legal status. The wiki seems to be mixed up on this. For
> <snip>

Hi Martin,

I really think you are over-thinking it. We have to remember that OSM was
not "designed", rather it evolved. In the early days it was UK centric and
when highway tag were being developed the proposer looked at the system of
roads and rights of way we have in the UK. Hence highway=motorway,
highway=trunk, ... highway=bridleway were selected to match how things were
often *referred* to in the UK. As it happens the way we in the UK refer to
things tends to align closely to the legal status (or some other official
status). Over time some of this has become less relevant - for example the
highway=trunk tag is of reducing relevance due to "de-trunking" of roads
(see wikipedaia [1]).

The bigger issue however came when OpenStreetMap grew globally. The way
that other countries refer to things doesn't always match us. As examples
"motorway" is not a term used globally, the concept of "trunk" roads is
alien to some people and many counties do not have the 4 classes of public
right of way that we do. As such other tags started to come in to use. In
particular the highway=path tag.

Now this new global tagging caused confusion in the UK as some tags seem to
be very similar (e.g highway=path and highway=footway). We also found
people were mapping using highway=footway when it was not an explicit
public right of way.

After much back and forth the UK settled on the designation=* tag as the
right way to signify the legal status (e.g. designation=public_footpath).
This is described in the link I previously shared [2]. This solution means
that people can use highway=path, highway=footway, highway=trunk (or
whatever else) and add the designation=public_footpath tag to indicate it's
legal status. It is a win for the community:

- those adding designation=public_footpath are doing so intentionally to
mark the legal status.
- we do not have to "police" the use of highway=footway; as in, there is no
need to contact people to tell them to only use highway=footway if it is a
public right of way (this option of trying to "police" the use of a tag was
never going to be a viable solution).

As such we evolved with the times and use highway tag to mark what you
*observe* (surely this is both physical appearance AND evidence of use
because the evidence of use IS observed physical appearance unless you are
setting up camera traps!).

The one oddity it leaves is that highway=path and highway=footway are very
similar. Noting my point above that it is not possible to "police" use,
these tags started to be used interchangeably. A few years later the
maintainers of the default map style (OSM Carto) made an update to the
style of the map so that highway=footway and highway=path are shown
identically. They then started showing a difference for surface. So if we
map highway=footway/path and add a surface=paved tag then it renders
differently. Again this is a win for the community as it encourages use of
the surface tag which provides valuable context.

So in summary, please follow the principle of "first map the feature" and
then "add the legal designation". Map the feature according to what you
observe (again I note that surely this is the same as the evidence of use).

Aside: A public footpath may not have big signs of use. If it's just a few
people using it occasionally then you won't get the marks in the ground
that you observe on some of our more heavily used paths. Consider this and
the time of year (paths overgrown in spring/summer may be cut back and
accessible again later in the year) before picking highway=disused. Disused
should be a rare exception.

I hope this helps. Key thing is to not get hung up on the history of how we
got here. Just go for it, use the additional tags (designation and surface)
to add valuable info and have fun mapping :-)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trunk_road#De-trunking:_United_Kingdom
[2] https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/UK_access_provisions

Best regards,
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